Early detection of any cancer can mean better outcomes

While the end of October brings National Breast Cancer Awareness month to a close, it is always time to encourage everyone to remain focused on their health and wellness. Salute to all the strong survivors, families and friends affected by breast cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breast cancer remains the number-one invasive cancer in the U.S. It is the second-most common cause of death from cancer, after lung and bronchus cancer. With more than 120,000 new cases each year, all women and men should know the common signs and symptoms of this disease for early diagnosis and intervention.

Breast cancer most often presents as a lump under the skin of the breast or near the armpit area in an adult woman. A mammogram X-ray is the primary screening test used to evaluate a breast lump. If X-ray imaging, ultrasound, or MRI are worrisome, a biopsy of the lesion is performed to confirm the diagnosis.

Sadly, breast cancer may first present as metastatic disease with skin lesions most often discovered on the chest, back or scalp. I have diagnosed several women with breast cancer when they present with abnormal new skin growths, and skin biopsies confirmed the spread of cancer.

The extent of the breast cancer and cell markers determine the treatment course, which may include surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy), radiation, hormonal therapy, and chemotherapy. The more extensive and higher stage the cancer, the more likely that multiple therapies will be recommended for treatment and to prevent recurrence.

More than a billion dollars is spent annually on research in the U.S. to help treat, cure, and prevent deaths from breast cancer. Clinical trials for novel therapies for breast cancers are underway currently at the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Health in addition to other research institutions across the country.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force currently recommends that all women aged 50 to 74 with an average risk of breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. If a woman has an increased risk of breast cancer, such as a personal or family history or other unique condition that may be associated with increased risk, screening may begin as early as 40 years of age.

Screening for breast cancer may lead to unnecessary biopsies or other intervention, so it is important that the benefits of screening outweigh the risks if a woman is under 50 years of age.

Beyond breast cancer, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent all primary invasive cancers. Physical activity in the form of exercise three times a week remains a sure way to prevent cancer risk, since it maintains a healthy weight and reduces obesity-associated risks (hypertension and diabetes).

Furthermore, physical activity protects many of the body’s organs from cancer growth by strengthening the immune system to remove carcinogens and toxins from the body. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are both associated with various cancers, such as oral, lung and colon cancers, and should be stopped to prevent cancer.

Early detection of any cancer is associated with better outcomes, such as cure and decreased mortality. Once a person has had one cancer, he or she is at increased risk for developing another cancer. Therefore, the American Academy of Dermatology encourages all invasive cancer survivors to get skin checks for skin cancer and to not ignore any changes occurring on their skin.

While breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women, skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in humans with more than four million cases each year, according the Skin Cancer Foundation. It is critical that each person be his or her own health advocate and pay attention to new skin growths or any symptomatic lesions that are rapidly growing, painful, tender, or bleeding.

Especially for skin cancer, the best prevention approach is to avoid indoor and outdoor tanning and to protect the skin from sunburns and other injury related to excessive sun exposure. The use of physical blocking sunscreens and protective clothing, such as hats, long-sleeved shirts, and sunglasses are a must for fairer skinned individuals or for those who have had skin precancers and cancers.

Getting changing moles or other lesions checked is also critical to prevention and early diagnosis of skin cancer. If there is a family history of skin cancer, adults are encouraged to perform periodic self-exams and to get annual skin checks to evaluate their skin. Similar to genetic causes of breast cancer, we now understand that melanoma skin cancer risk can be genetic and run in families.

Make the decision this fall to want to look and feel your best. Pay attention to what you can see, and follow the recommended screening guidelines set forth by your primary care physician. If you are an adult aged 40 or older, go see a primary care physician for general health screening if you have not done so this year.


Learn more about cancer statistics in the U.S. in addition to cancer prevention and control at the CDC.gov. Visit clinicaltrials.gov to learn more about trials that you may be able to participate in to help us better understand and treat all cancers.

Margareth Pierre-Louis, MD, MBA, is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist and Medical Director of Twin Cities Dermatology Center. Dr. Pierre-Louis promotes visible wellness and treats skin, hair, and nail disorders affecting patients of all ages, skin types, and backgrounds. She has cared for thousands of patients in consultation through academic and private practice and via telemedicine. Her expertise lies in the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions, pigmentation disorders, and hair loss. Learn more about Dr. Pierre-Louis atwincitiesderm.com and contact her TCD@tcdermmn.com or 612-268-5005.